Some TeX Developments

Coding in the TeX world

Presenting visual material

with 2 comments

I’ve recently been thinking about how best to present ‘visual’ material: presentations, lectures and academic posters. As a ‘LaTeX regular’ I tend to do that in LaTeX (using beamer), but in many ways what I’ve been thinking about is entirely independent of the tool I use. Looking around the TeX world, I found a couple of very interesting articles in the PracTeX journal, one on posters and one on presentations. As you might expect, they contain some ‘technical’ advice but are worth a read whatever tool you use to make your visual material. (Many people who use LaTeX for articles prefer more visual tools for posters in particular.)

Presentations

The core idea in the paper on presentations is I guess ‘rolling your own’ in terms of producing your slides. On the the authors is Marcus Kohm, so it’s no surprise that there is a strong focus on using KOMA-Script as a general-purpose class, and making design changes to suit the screen rather than print. There are a couple of reasons suggested for doing this. The first is that, like any ‘pre-build’ approach, it’s easy to just use the defaults of say beamer or powerdot and make a presentation that is very similar to lots of other ones. If you do the design yourself as a ‘one off’ that’s much less likely to be a concern. The other argument was that in some ways dedicated presentation classes make it too easy to use lots of ‘effects’ (such as the beamer overlay concept I looked at recently).

I’m not sure I’d want to make my own slides from scratch every time I make a presentation: there are reasons that there are dedicated classes. However, I’d say the points about design and ‘effects’ are both valid. I increasingly use pretty ‘basic’ slides, which don’t have much in the way of ‘fancy’ design or dynamic content, and find that these work just as well if not better than more complex ones. Overlays and similar do have a use, and I do use them when they make good sense, but that’s actually pretty rare.

Posters

The message in the article on posters is in some ways the same as the presentation one: the standard designs don’t work that well. Academic posters tend to be very text-heavy, and a multi-column design with a few small graphics is one you see repeated a lot. The article suggests a radically-different approach: essentially no words and just graphical elements. That’s not necessarily LaTeX’s strength, but the authors do a goo d job using TikZ to showcase their argument.

I’ve never quite had the nerve to make a poster with essentially no text. However, I do see the point that mainly graphical posters in many ways work better than putting your entire paper on the wall. There’s always that worry that once a poster goes up, you can’t be sure you’ll be there to talk to anyone interested and so a few words are in some ways a ‘safety net’.

Conclusion

Both articles give you something to think about. Even if you do all of your slides and posters in visual tools (PowerPoint, KeyNote, Illustrator, etc.), the core messages are still valid. I’d say we can all learn a little here: worth a read!

Written by Joseph Wright

February 4th, 2014 at 8:49 am

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2 Responses to 'Presenting visual material'

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  1. Interesting. I think graphics are great but it would be very difficult (impossible) to convey information in graphical form in my subject.

    Maybe it depends a little what field you are in. In my field, LaTeX is an unusual tool and beamer even more so. There is therefore a much lower risk of your slides looking just like lots of others even if you use the default theme with no changes. (This isn’t what I do – I use a customised version of one of beamer’s alternate themes.) Occasionally, people recognise it as beamer but they are usually beamer users themselves and the experience is one of coming across somebody who happens to share a relatively obscure interest whose delights are unknown to the rest of the world! There are sub-disciplines where LaTex is more widely used but, even then, most of the presentations people see will not (generally) be beamer since most of the presentations people see will not (typically) be in their specialisation. So just by using beamer, your slides are pretty much guaranteed to look ‘a bit different’ to most people. Whether that is good or not…?

    I do think some of the titlepages I see now are nicer/more modern than mine. But the slides beyond that still tend to look rather like enlarged snippets from Word. Again, whether that is bad or not…?

    cfr

    5 Feb 14 at 2:55 pm

  2. I guess how ‘graphical’ one can be depends on the content: for example, in pure maths I’d imagine that mean ‘formulae’, while for me as a chemist I can get a long way with chemical structures and a few plots of data.

    Joseph Wright

    6 Feb 14 at 8:42 pm

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